Sunday, August 30, 2009

The disintegration of the opposition

Once when a scholar came to Akbar's court and asked him - "What does God do"?, no one gave a satisfactory answer until Birbal stood up and said - "God changes a king to a subject(subordinate) and a subject to a king". This is precisely what is happening with the Opposition party - BJP.

13 years ago when Congress was totally demoralized, there were fractions and rebellions. The news was that "Congress is dead". With one section revolting Sonia and the other with her was making news every second. Everyday the party was ridden with quarrels and squabbles - and the whole country was ashamed of the fact that it is this party that they voted for 50 years.
Congress was split in 1967 once for the same reason. Now, Congress is on a U-turn and BJP has taken its place. However, a split in the BJP is more or less impossible.

Every major senior leader more or less has come out in the open explaining their problems both with Advani and Rajnath Singh. This is definitely a party that boasted of self discipline and unity. Today, all that lies shattered. The party has collapsed and disintegrated. This is not good news for the country because an effective opposition is very much required.

In my earlier article, I did mention about the graceful exit of Advani, but it appears like Advani is sticking on to the position because of party pressure. He should have done what Sonia did. -give up the job. He would have become at least a good leader and the humiliation would have been less. Today, Advani not just stands humiliated, but has become a topic of humor to everyone.

The party is not correct when it tries to sack Vasundhara Raje and B.C. Khanduri for non-performance when Advani and Rajnath Singh continue to hold onto their posts. The yardstick must be one for all.

The sacking of Jaswant Singh was a ridiculous drama. This man built the party along with Vajpayee and Advani and served as an excellent External Affairs Minister changing the Indo- US relationships so diplomatically that Strobe Talbott (Deputy Secretary of State to Bill Clinton) wrote an entire book describing how he played an imporant role in it. What did Mr.Advani do at that time? Was he under the pressure of Rajnath Singh? It appears that ever since Rajnath Singh took over as party president, there have been no end for troubles in the BJP. Yes, there are issues with why Jaswant Singh went to release hostages, but his other contributions to the nation are good enough to retain him. If Nehru is still revered and respected despite the blunder of 1962 war, Indira Gandhi despite emergency - then it is also true that Jaswant Singh must be considered for certain valuable contributions he made to diplomacy and foreign policy.

Arun shourie is very correct when he says if Vajpayee would have been asked to react to Jaswant's book he would have said - "Kitab hi likha hai...aap bhi ek kitaab likh de jiye" (i.e He has only written a book...so what even you write a book) and the matter would have ended there.

Rajnath Singh has tried to create a wedge between all senior leaders who once stood united and calm. If such presidents continue to preside a principal national party, the party is doomed to finish. It reminds me of the disastrous Sitaram Kesri of the Congress who spoiled the party to the core.

Mr. Vajpayee's midas touch is required and he is unfortunately unfit to give that. No one knows what's the future of this party? It is deadly to the country if congress or the BJP collapses this way. These 2 are the only national parties that have and can give a stable and strong government. If either one collapses, the regional parties like SP, BSP, TDP, AIADMK, DMK and others will take over and India will not be India at all. Nationality and national consensus will erode that day when this becomes a reality.

It is important to set the house in order and young leaders must take over. If BJP comes out with more young leaders to the forefront, then it can at least come out to compete with Congress's most positive factor right now.

I would dismiss anyone's viewpoint who says BJP never governed this country well. It is the only party along with Congress which has given this country a stable government. The party has to emerge united with a good leader and ensure regional parties don't take over. Like there are 2 poles - South and north - so are Congress and BJP - 2 poles of Indian politics. This should not change.

Someone once remarked - Advani becomes silent on certain crucial matters when his presence is utmost required and his silence now continues to act as fuel burning the very BJP he built. This is the worst problem a person can have.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Revamped Bangalore Bus Transport Service

In the US, public transportation system is absymal and pathetic. Except for some major cities like New York, Chicago, San Franscisco etc, there is nothing worth you can find as in Japan, China or to a big extent in India too. There has been this great lobbying by car manufacturers for the past 50-60 years that has prevented simple public transportation to kick off. In the US, there is no fast bullet trains despite being such a vast country while Japan has several of them. I rather am amused at the way public bus system works in Miami. The frequency is so bad and connectivity is not proper.

In India, we have a far better system of public transportation (Of course, it is very true that every city needs a metro like that of Delhi and the pace of completion is very slow). However, when it comes to buses we are way ahead of the corresponding systems existing even in a developed country like America.

Bangalore's BMTC (earlier known as Bangalore Transportation Service - BTS. BMTC stands for Bangalore Metropolitan Transportation Corporation) is currently the most profitable city transportation corporation in India. One of the prime reasons is that BMTC has been continuously trying to reinvent itself in many ways - through application of technology, better service and revamping interiors, getting new - low pollution, better mileage, commuter friendly buses. The buses now in Bangalore are low floor VOLVO buses which has triggered a revolution. Now, Delhi has taken inspiration and before 2010 Commonwealth Games they plan to convert their entire fleet into these ones. Even Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune want this to be replicated in their cities. The funding for such buses are shared by Central, State and the bus corporations under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched by Manmohan Singh Govt during his first tenure. So, BMTC has to shell out 30% of the expenses.



Look at BMTC in comparison to BEST buses in Mumbai:

BMTC operates 4,500 buses on 1,400 routes to carry 3.7 million passengers every day across Bangalore, while 4.5 million passengers travel on 3,380 buses owned by BEST on 335 routes in Mumbai.

I personally have traveled in VOLVO buses and trust me excepting for the crowd (which is quite natural) the experience was very comfortable and pleasing.


BMTC posted a profit of Rs. 140 crore during recession in the past 2 years when all major city bus services were reeling under losses. It earns 2.58 crore everyday by ferrying 40 lakh passengers.

BMTC receives 50% of revenue only from bus passes used daily by school and college students in addition to teachers, working women. How can I forget even I was one of those who used monthly passes 10 years ago.!!?

The new benefits of monthly passes which also has insurance cover, medical expenses reimbursement and parking discounts at a really affordable prices to a common man and I think this is a great idea being followed attracting people to use bus passes. Now, you have even an unlimited daily pass for as low as Rs. 30 using which you can travel in buses in the city anywhere. Bangalore also has one of the highest bus-to-population ratio in the country which is 1:1027.


The pictures posted so far are of the "Vajra" bus service within the city.

The best part of Vajra is the LED display in Kannada and English about all major stops of the route continuously scrolling from left to right and it is a delightful sight and easy to figure out if that bus is for you or not. Vajra buses have 50% seats at low level and the rest 50% at an elevated level. Nice Kannada FM radio plays all the time and most importantly Air Conditioned




Now, there are at least 1000 such buses that will be added to the existing fleet and old ones would be soon removed. Good thing...If Volvo buses are plying on roads, government may not spend lots of money on CNG as Volvo causes extremely low pollution. This is in fact the reason why Volvo buses are being used heavily in Shanghai too.

The existing "Parisara Vahini"(second image below) buses still operate and they are manufactured by EICHER or even Pushpak(first image below buses continue to ply on the roads.



























When BIAL airport was opened just abt 1 or 2 years ago, BMTC introduced special non-AC Suvarna buses exclusively to the airport with a fixed set of stops and limited passengers. This however did not generate that much enthusiasm. So, Suvarna buses(image below) were added to the regular fleet in more numbers than the airport one.

When Suvarna buses were added, they hiked the prices and as a result - "Parisara Vahini" buses got more revenue. Later, they slashed the prices of both Suvarna and Vajra buses and introduced pass systems for them. This has now giving them huge profits. There were huge complaints on Suvarna buses being not available at peak hours despite BMTC's promise. However, due to raging agitation, BMTC increased its peak hour frequency on 20 major routes.

This is the existing fare structure as of Feb 2009 when the prices of both Suvarna and Vajra were slashed and as a result a common gets an AC Volvo bus to travel within the city. For most routes Suvarna doesn't allow commuters standing and thereby runs less than 50% occupancy in a day while Vajra allows the same. Of almost a fleet of 500 Suvarna buses, 116 of them are exclusively offered to Airport service.

Interestingly, it appears that BMTC never wants to be passive. Recently, they introduced 3 different types of bus services within the city. They include the Orange line Kendriya Sarige, Blue line Kendriya Saarige and the yellow BIG10. The pictures of all 3 are below:

The orange and blue lines connect different parts of the cities covering only the main areas/stops and there is a flat fare of Rs.10 between any 2 points on a line. The areas that these cover are available in the maps below: The maps are available online on http://btis.in which is the official website.

Areas covered by the blue and orange Kendriya Saarige.




The Big10 covers 10 major roads using which commuters can go from any one such road to the other.


Besides these, there is "VAYU VAJRA" services exclusively from and to International Airport to various city points. There are almost 16 different routes and they dont intersect and there is a separate provision for keeping luggages and the number of seats are limited. This map has been put up just outside the airport.



They start at 5:30 am and ends at 1:00 am on most routes. Completely A/C and music playing all the time, it is a very comfortable ride. No sound of the engine, less noisy and fuel efficient buses has changed the city a lot. Only hitch is the roads. If the roads in the city were wide enough, the experience would have been ideal. The road from the new airport to the city entrance i.e Mekhri Circle is the best road in Bangalore as of now.

Let's not forget whenever Bangalore Metro becomes operational, BMTC is going to get a tough time. Anyday railways would be preferrable over buses within the city because of heavy traffic and time taken to commute.

However, as a Bangalorean I am proud that we have a chance to see and use a revamped bus transporation system which is both eco-friendly and commuter friendly.

I am sure very soon all major cities will start using such eco-friendly buses and at least we can reduce pollution - air and noise on roads. Thanks to UPA Govt's JNNURM scheme which is very good in its content, but must change the way the funds flow so that there is no misuse. Not all organizations can be like BMTC (doesnt mean BMTC is perfect, but is definitely doing better) in terms of fund utlization.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Right to Education Bill - What right path to implement?

Sometimes, I wonder and ponder over the fact that I am born in that country which was the origin of the greatest mathematicians, scholars, scientists, doctors and many more professionals who lived and contributed to the entire mankind so much that we continue to live on these. Our Nalanda University (presently in Bihar) or Taxila (the present day SWAT region in Pakistan) was the hub where even the Chinese, Greeks, Romans came and learnt because the literacy and competency level we had was so high. Since our independence in 1947, we have tried, but struggled to make even a literacy rate of 70%. This is purely because of the absysmal implementation of literacy missions and govt schools.

Perhaps, there was no legal cover to education. In 2002, during Vajpayee's govt 86th amendement was made that made education a fundamental right, but failed to come up with details of the law. In a historic move, the UPA govt passed the Right to Education Bill with more or less unanimous consensus from all parties. Good. The implications or the effect of this legislation and its salient features include as given in the picture (courtesy: Telegraph newspaper)

















There are interesting provisions that can easily become loopholes too. For example, there is this provision of a creation of a school in neighbourhood. If the child doesn't have one, then private schools must set up one or govt sets up one. This is the easiest where Govt's record could be the worst. This is because the incharge officers may not even bother to set up a school and even if set up, the infrastructure would be so pathethic that teachers may also run away. Just look at the hygeine of govt schools. The children may just run away. Look at the way meals are prepared in most govt schools ( as a part of Mid day meal ). They use inferior raw materials, rotten vegetables and cook food. Millions of children across the country have such food every day and no law and no govt comes to their rescue. Charging extra fees or donations is against law..but who follows? None. So, the punishment provision in the new bill is at best left undiscussed.

Further, there is a provision that a citizen may complain to the neighborhood officer and the officer may choose to act. This is the funniest part. How many officers who are appointed to this post would be honest? Very very few. If this is the nature, reliability has vanished even before the Act has become a full fledged law.

Excepting for Kendriya Vidyalayas and probably a few more, Govt schools are really not in any good shape conducive to any student, forget a teacher. Just look at this article that explains stinking toilets in Chandigarh schools.

This is another article that explains girls drop out is highest where there is no basic toilets/bathrooms for them. Although Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan started by Vajpayee Govt talks of teacher student partnership in cleaning and maintaining schools, no one follows it.

Actually in 2002 after a fiery debate Education was made a fundamental right.

Given these sad realities, we need to change the way govt schools run. For this, private companies and corporations must be given in charge to build schools, provide infrastructure ( of course with govt money) and recruit teachers. The Govt must pay teachers and not corporations/companies. Any issues w.r.t maintenance must be given to such private ones. Complete privatization would dinimish distinction between govt and private schools and private schools demand high donation fees. This deprives many students to enter the reliable private schools. Implementing schools this way will at least attract students to school and also would ensure they will compete with private ones.

Unless implementation of such laws is not given to people outside the Parliamentary circle, it is difficult to see them really transform the society.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Golden Lakshmi temple in Vellore




There are 3 places in India where gold has been extensively used for religious shrines and continue to attract thousands of people every day. These include Golden Temple in Amritsar, Tirupati Balaji temple in Tirupati and latest in the list is the "Sripuram Lakshmi Temple" in Vellore.

Vellore was a sleeping town and was known only for Vellore fort and the world famous CMC hospital. This temple suddenly has made the place very popular and a hub of tourist activity. Situated closely to both Bangalore and Chennai, the temple is attracting thousands of people everyday esp Tuesdays and Fridays. (The picture is taken from http://modernbarbarian.blogspot.com/2007/10/golden-temple-near-vellore.html)

Here's the distance chart
Link: http://www.trsiyengar.com/id123.shtml

Chennai - Vellore about 150 kms (Via Sriperumpudur, Sunkuwar Chathram, Kaveripakkam, Wallajahpet, Ranipet, Arcot, Ratnagari - or Arcot by-pass from Ranipet) - 3 and half hours drive from Chennai.

Bangalore - Vellore (via Hosur) - 220 kms (On national highway routes - NH7 > via - Hosur Road - Electronic City - Attibele(NH7) - Hosur - Kamandoddi - Shoolagiri- Melumalai - Kurubarapalli - Krishnagiri > NH46> - Bargur - Vaniyambadi - Ambur - Pallikondaj - Vellore. - around 4 hours drive)

Kanchipuram - Vellore - 58 kms

Tirupathi - Katpadi - 95 kms

Ranipet - Vellore - 26 kms (via Arcot bypass - highways 22 kms)

Hyderabad - Vellore - 510 kms

Mysore - Vellore - 270 kms

Thiruvannamalai - Vellore - 85 kms

Vellore - Sripuram Sri Mahalakshmi Golden Temple - 8 KM


The video below is taken from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1rQb7Asgfo
video

The salient aspects of the temple include:

1) 100 acres site and the temple periphery is star shaped and devotees have to go through it.

2) Made of 1.5 tonnes of gold.

3) Vimanam and Ardhamandapam have been coated with gold both interior and exterior.
4) About 400 goldsmithas and coppersmiths were involved (many of them from Tirpuati) in making this temple a really grand one.
5) Twelve layers of gold foils have been pasted on copper sheets embossed with the designs of Gods and fixed on the walls.
6) Exnora International has selected Sripuram, housing the Sri Lakshmi Narayani Temple in Thirumalaikkodi near Vellore for the ‘Green Temple Award.’ This is in recognition of its achievement of keeping the temple clean and green, growing thousands of trees on the premises and in the immediate environment, and implementing an Integrated Solid Waste Management (SWM) Project, according to M.B. Nirmal, founder of Exnora International.

The official website is http://www.sripuram.org/


The temple has generated a lot of employment in Vellore and tourism has become a livelihood to them. The temple is highly guarded and well maintained. My personal visit was truly a divine experience. The main "garbhagudi" or the central part of the temple is surrounded by water and it adds richness and grandeur to the glittering gold.